Stories tagged NOAA


If you look at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s interactive map of nuclear power plants in the United States, you will see several in states bordering the Atlantic Ocean. This prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to request the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), along with other governmental and academic partners, to research the potential for tsunamis to strike the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, and prepare maps using sonar (originally an acronym for SOund Navigation And Ranging). Note that the March 11, 2011 earthquake near Honshu, Japan, created a tsunami that resulted in a nuclear disaster that is still being remediated.

NOAA Research Ship Nancy Foster: Nancy Foster supports applied research primarily for NOAA's National Ocean Service and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
NOAA Research Ship Nancy Foster: Nancy Foster supports applied research primarily for NOAA's National Ocean Service and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Through this research, initiated about five years ago, the leading potential source of dangerous tsunamis to the East Coast was identified as landslides, either originating in submarine canyons or on the continental slope of the submerged margin of the continent of North America.

According to USGS marine geologist Jason Chaytor, many years of data collection and integration of existing data sets was needed in order to produce seafloor maps with the resolution needed to identify all of the relevant features for this study. The first field effort of this project was a multibeam bathymetric mapping cruise conducted aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Nancy Foster from June 4 to June 16, 2011. Using echosounders installed on the hull of Nancy Foster, the science team mapped canyons and shelf regions at high resolution over more than 380 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) of seafloor from south of Cape Hatteras, located offshore of North Carolina, to the eastern tip of Long Island in New York.
Bathymetric Map of Continental Slope 150 km Southeast of New Jersey: High-resolution multibeam bathymetry collected in and between Baltimore and Accomac Canyons during the June 2011 cruise. Color key at left shows depths (in meters).
Bathymetric Map of Continental Slope 150 km Southeast of New Jersey: High-resolution multibeam bathymetry collected in and between Baltimore and Accomac Canyons during the June 2011 cruise. Color key at left shows depths (in meters).Courtesy United States Geological Survey

A number of submarine landslides, some previously unknown, were either partly or completely mapped. Characteristics collected include the size and number of landslides, soil and rock properties, the water depth they occur in, and the style in which they fail. This information is often used in numerical modeling of tsunamis generated by landslides.

The scientists detailed their findings in the September/October issue of the USGS newsletter Sound Waves.


The entire nation now has a new ‘normal temperature.’ These climatological temperatures, and other weather parameters, are computed by averaging all temperatures over a 30-year period. These averages are called normal temperatures. These averages serve as a reference point and are used to help us interpret average climate conditions at a particular location. A comparison of today’s temperature with the normal temperature helps us determine if today is an atypical weather day. Private industry also uses these temperatures in the planning. For example, energy companies use the normal temperature for long term planning of energy usage. Agriculture uses this as they monitor a particular growing season.

The National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration’s National Climatic Data Center (or NCDC) calculates the normal weather conditions over a thirty year period for more than 7,500 locations in the United States.
Since this time period is a reference point, we have to define the 30-year period. As of July 1, this averaging period is 1981-2010. Prior to that date, the averaging period was 1971-2000. So, what does this new period tell us?

The normal temperature for the entire US is about 0.5 °F warmer now than it was during the 1971-2000 time period. The normal low temperature for WI is about 0.8 °F warmer now than it was in the 1971-2000 period; and WI normal high temperature is about 0.6 °F warmer. According to Assistant State Climatologist of WI, Dr. E. Hopkins, the new normal high and low temperatures for Madison (which is where I live) are 56.6 and 36.7, which are 0.2 and 1.2 degrees higher than the previous 30-year period.

You can find the new normals for where you live at this site:


Beating the heat in Duluth, MN: Fearless swimmers take advantage of Lake Superior's record temps.
Beating the heat in Duluth, MN: Fearless swimmers take advantage of Lake Superior's record temps.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Last week, Lake Superior, which is bordered by Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, recorded its highest average surface temperature ever, a balmy 68.3°F. People seeking relief from a very hot summer have been flocking to the shores and beaches and actually swimming in the lake! That is so unlike the Lake Superior I remember growing up in Duluth. Sure, we liked to spend a day on the sand beaches of Park Point or lounging on the rocky outcrops along the North Shore but swimming was usually not an option. On average, Lake Superior’s overall temperature is barely above freezing (39 °F), and back then it seemed you couldn’t even wade in ankle-deep without having your breath sucked out of your lungs and thinking your feet had fallen off. Standing knee-deep in the water for even a short time was unbearable and a true test of endurance. And for guys, going any further was just plain crazy, unless you wanted verifiable (and excruciating) proof of Costanza’sTheory of Shrinkage.

Those hell-bent among us would sometimes make a mad suicide dash across the burning sands and actually dive into the frigid waters only to set off the mammalian diving reflex and cause their vital organs to start to shut down. Their only hope was if the lifeguards were watching and were properly certified in CPR.

Temperature ranges on Superior have been recorded for more than three decades. In recent years, the normal average surface temperature for Lake Superior during the month of August has been only 55°, so this dramatic rise in the average is unusual. As expected, many people are quick to point a finger at global warming as the cause for the rise. That’s not a bad guess considering the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just proclaimed the year 2010 as the hottest on record, globally.

But physicist Jay Austin at the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Large Lake Observatory has been closely tracking the lake’s surface temperatures, and predicted the record high back in July. He says the warm water this summer is at least partially due to a recent El Niño event that had an unusual effect on the lake this past winter.

“2009 was a very strong El Niño year,” Austin said. “And that El Niño year led to a year at least on Superior where there was very little ice.”

That lack of ice led to a quicker and earlier warm up of Lake Superior’s surface waters. The other Great Lakes showed similar increases in their average warm temperatures as well. Although ice usually forms on the lake surface during the winter months, Lake Superior rarely freezes over completely. The last time was in 1979.

The following video illustrates the contrast between last winter and the one prior to that. Each day on their Coast Watch website, NOAA posts 3 or 4 photographs taken by a satellite in geosynchronous orbit above Lake Superior. Early in 2009 I began collecting the images regularly thinking they could come in handy for a future Buzz story such as this. From March 2009 to May 2010 I collected something like 1100 satellite photos. Edited together, they make for an interesting time-lapse video that illustrates the weather patterns over the big lake from one winter to the next. At the start of the video (March 2009) ice-cover is apparent over much of the lake and can be seen building then melting away as the spring thaw brings warmer temperatures. But later in the video, as summer passes into fall and fall into winter, no ice appears at all over the expanse of the lake’s surface. Other than that I don’t know how informative the time-lapse ended up being but it’s certainly interesting to watch, particularly the wind and cloud patterns seen flowing off the lake starting in late January 2010.

"This year is just tremendously anomalous," Austin said. "This year ranks up there with the warmest water we have ever seen, and the warming trend appears to be going on in all of the Great Lakes."

The big question is what effect these warmer temperatures have on the lake’s ecology? Austin admits it’s hard to say.

"Fish have a specific range of temperatures in which they like to spawn," he said. "It may be that for some fish this very warm year is going to be great for them, but for others, like trout which are a very cold-adapted fish, it's not going to be great."

One problem for the trout could be that scourge of the Great Lakes, the jawless sea lamprey. Lampreys are invasive parasites and attach themselves to lake trout and live off their blood. It’s unknown what changes, if any, the warmer waters will have on their life-cycle. They may lay eggs faster and in larger quantities, increasing their populations, and their impact on the trout species.

Lake Superior has probably passed through its peak time for temperature this summer so more than likely the 68.3°F record will stand for the rest of the year. If you want to keep track you can go to the Michigan Sea Grant website where you can follow all the Great Lakes’ daily surface temperatures. But who knows? This summer may not be the height of the 30-year warming trend. Let’s see what next year has in store.

Personally, I’m concerned these warm water temperatures will spoil us. Being able to endure extremely cold temperatures is a Minnesota tradition, and helps build character. It makes you tough and able to withstand all sorts of adversity as well as the harshest of elements. Which brings to mind the time when my wife (then girlfriend) and I were in Glacier National Park and decided to go for a swim in St. Mary’s Lake. There were only a few other people goofy enough to be swimming in the glacial lake at the same time. It didn’t surprise us to learn they were all from Minnesota.

We were so proud of ourselves.

Minnesota Public Radio story
Lake Superior facts
More about Lake Superior
Great Lakes info


We have heard about the many fires in Russia. NASA satellites have detected over 600 600 hotspots from wildfires within Russian territory in one day!

Fires produce a heat signature that is detectable by satellites even when the fires represent a small fraction of the pixel. Fires produce a stronger signal in the mid-wave IR bands (around 4 microns) than they do in the long wave IR bands (such as 11 microns). That differential response forms the basis for most algorithms that detect the presences of a fire, the size of the fire, the instantaneous fire temperature.

The unusually hot and dry mid-August conditions beneath a strong ridge of high pressure across British Columbia led to a major outbreak of wildfires across that western Canadian province. The satellite image shows the location of those fires as red squares. The smoke plumes are also seen on the satellite imagery.

Here's an image from a NASA instrument: The red squares are fire locations and the smoke from the fires is evident.

The aerosols released by fires and the degraded air quality caused by them represent tremendous costs to society, so reliable information on fire locations and characteristics is important to a wide variety of users. For this reason, NOAA tracks these plumes and makes them publically available from NOAA at:


Is deep water drilling worth the cost?

Oil spill advances toward Gulf coast: New overflight map updated 10:00 a.m. April 29, 2010 - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Oil spill advances toward Gulf coast: New overflight map updated 10:00 a.m. April 29, 2010 - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)Courtesy uscgd8
The costs of a "Drill, Baby, Drill" policy are being measured this week in lives, money, business income, and environmental damage.

BP (British Petroleum) says it is spending $6 million a day to battle a growing oil spill which resulted from a deep water oil rig accident. The oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, worth $560 million, was destroyed. Eleven missing workers are presumed dead. Crude oil continues to flow into the Gulf at about 5000 barrels (210,000 gallons) a day. Fishing and tourism businesses are fearful upon hearing that the oil spill is only a day away.

Ways to fight the 2010 Gulf oil spill

  • Stop the oil flow at the well head with remote-controlled submarines (unsuccessful so far)
  • Drop a dome over the leak and pipe oil to surface vessels (will take 2 to 4 weeks)
  • Drill relief wells to relieve pressure and plug up gushing cavity (will take months)
  • Burn the oil (oil quickly becomes too waterlogged to burn)
  • Stop the oil spill with floating booms and skim oil off surface
  • Use chemicals to make oil mix into the water

What do you think?

Please use our comments feature for news updates, ideas, or opinions.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued its Atlantic hurricane season forecast. The prediction -- "near-normal" -- fits pretty well with the forecasts from AccuWeather, Colorado State University, WSI Corporation, and the Weather Research Center. What does "near-normal" mean? NOAA is predicting 9 to 14 named storms, with 4 to 7 hurricanes, and 1 to 3 major storms (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale of storm intensity).

But storm prediction is a tricky business. More rainfall over West Africa, warmer sea surface temperatures, and reduced wind shear could encourage more storms. An El Nino pattern in the Pacific or cooler ocean temperatures could discourage them. NOAA will issue another prediction in August, just before the usual peak in the hurricane season.


Snow: soon to be water
Snow: soon to be waterCourtesy jef safi
Here in Minnesota, a whole lotta snow in the winter can lead to a whole lotta messy flooding in the spring. That's probably why the Federal Weather Folk--aka the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA--base their National Operational Hydrological Remote Sensing Center up here in Chanhassen.

By looking at the snow conditions across the north, the NOHRSC can predict possible flooding when the seasons begin to change. The Star Tribune has an interesting article on how NOHRSC uses low flying planes and other forms of remote sensing to keep track of snow on the ground. Did you know that you can be a snow physicist?

So what can we expect this spring? Flooding is on the menu, and the folks at NOHRSC are flying around the north of the country to figure out where.


Ever wanted to be a storm spotter? Now's your chance! The National Weather Service (NWS) relies on local SKYWARN storm spotters to confirm, from the ground, what meteorologists are seeing on radar. NWS storm spotters are not tornado chasers like the folks in the movie "Twister." Instead, they report wind gusts, hail size, rainfall, cloud formations, and the like to NWS and local emergency management agencies.

Tornado: This tornado, seen in its early stages of formation over Union City, Oklahoma (May 24, 1973), was the first one caught by the National Severe Storms Laboratory doppler radar and chase personnel. (Photo courtesy NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OA
Tornado: This tornado, seen in its early stages of formation over Union City, Oklahoma (May 24, 1973), was the first one caught by the National Severe Storms Laboratory doppler radar and chase personnel. (Photo courtesy NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OA

New radar equipment is still not sensitive enough to determine the existence of an actual tornado. It can only predict where severe weather is likely to occur. So the NWS needs trained volunteers to verify actual severe weather.

With peak storm season just around the corner (mid-June here in the Upper Midwest), free, 2.5-hour classes are being offered to train new SkyWarn volunteers.

SkyWarn class schedule, greater Minnesota
SkyWarn class schedule, Twin Cities Metro area

Here's how you get started...


January 2007 global warming smashes previous record.

Hottest Jan ever.: NOAA
Hottest Jan ever.: NOAA
Climate monitoring branch chief, Jay Lawrimore, has grown accustomed to having records broken but says that January was a bigger jump than the world has seen in about ten years. The global land average temperature didn't just nudge past the old record set in 2002, but broke that mark by 0.81 degrees Fahrenheit (0.56C), which meteorologists said is a lot, since such records often are broken by hundredths of a degree at a time.

The temperature of the world's land and water combined -- the most effective measurement -- was 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit (0.96C) warmer than normal, breaking the old record by more than one-quarter of a degree. The world's temperature record was driven by northern latitudes. Siberia was on average 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5.1C) warmer than normal. Eastern Europe had temperatures averaging 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.55C) above normal. Canada on average was more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.88C) warmer than normal. NOAA

United States had warmest year ever in 2006

The United States yearly average temperature record was broken in 2006(NOAA News). Here in Minneapolis-St Paul, the temperature was 17 degrees F above average for the last three weeks of 2006. Also in 2006, the United States set an all-time record for forest fires with more than 9.8 million acres burned in more than 96,000 wildfires.

What other records are being set?

We seem to be living in turbulent times. Can you give examples of other records being set?